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Deadbeats, Deadbrokes, and Prisoners

43 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2011  

Ann Cammett

CUNY School of Law

Date Written: April 27, 2011


Historically, child support policy has targeted absent parents with aggressive enforcement measures. Such an approach is based on an economic resource model that is increasingly irrelevant, even counterproductive, for many low-income families. Specifically, modern day mass incarceration has radically skewed the paradigm on which the child support system is based, removing millions of parents from the formal economy entirely, diminishing their income opportunities after release, and rendering them ineffective economic actors. Such a flawed policy approach creates unintended consequences for the children of these parents by compromising a core non-monetary goal of child support system – parent-child engagement – as enforcement measures serve to alienate parents from the formal economy after reentry and drive them underground and away from their families.

In this article I propose that lawmakers harmonize child well-being rhetoric with policy by mitigating the counterproductive effects of federal and state law on incarcerated parents, an issue that is undoubtedly of national concern. I also invite readers to reimagine the normative contours of child supportive practices by recognizing that child support alone will never be an effective substitute for broader antipoverty measures.

Keywords: family law, child support, child support enforcement, prisoners, mass incarceration, collateral consequences, prisoner debt, incarcerated parents, Family Support Act, Bradley Amendment

JEL Classification: K42, K39, I30, I38, J12, J13

Suggested Citation

Cammett, Ann, Deadbeats, Deadbrokes, and Prisoners (April 27, 2011). Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy, Vol. 18, No. 2, p. 127, Spring 2011; UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper . Available at SSRN:

Ann Cammett (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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